Thursday, August 2, 2007

Of merit and talent

I love this one:

"Between persons of equal income there is no social distinction except the distinction of merit. Money is nothing: character, conduct, and capacity are everything. Instead of all the workers being levelled down to low wage standards and all the rich levelled up to fashionable income standards, everybody under a system of equal incomes would find her and his own natural level. There would be great people and ordinary people and little people, but the great would always be those who had done great things, and never the idiots whose mothers had spoiled them and whose fathers had left them a hundred thousand a year; and the little would be persons of small minds and mean characters, and not poor persons who had never had a chance. That is why idiots are always in favor of inequality of income (their only chance of eminence), and the really great in favor of equality."

(George Bernard Shaw, "The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism", cited by Howard Zinn in "Passionate Declarations", chapter "Economic justice: the American class system")


François Ascani said...

Is it really the perfect solution? Are creativity, ideas, production not also generated by the fight, not just between human beings but also between the human race and its environment? Not everything is produced from this fight and a bid deal is also produced from the uncalculated, sustainable butterfly-like motivation you are referring to. But my belief is that there is a whole strata of motivation, from the pure and weigthless to the corrupt and heavy. What matters? Both the way we do things and the goals achieved. But none of them can be dictated by a single theory.

Daniel said...

This kind of idea is simplistic

I hate simplistic ideas: they often lead to fascism...

Cedric said...

Well, I think what you just said Daniel is a simplistic idea itself: fascism is a political ideology as complex as any other, and has been unfortunately supported by many intellectuals.
Now I think that the idea expressed by George Bernard Shaw leads to socialism or communism, not fascism, which was opposed to the formers.
I agree with François that putting everybody on the same material level is not the perfect solution, because it would work only in a world where everybody is pure and self-desinterested, and as soon as there is one person who is not it would (and have !) collapse(d).
I just retained this quote because I find the last sentence very funny (and with some truth in it) !

Daniel said...

Je ne suis pas assez bon en anglais pour developper cette idée alors voici en français:

D'abord le fachisme n'est pas du tout l'opposé du communisme ou du socialisme. Une des caractérisique du fachisme est un état fort et sécuritaire (voir Quand on voit l'application de la doctrine communiste en Russie au XX siecle, on est plus proche du fachisme que de l'idéal sans classes sociales de Marx.

Pour revenir à ta citation("That is why idiots are always in favor of inequality of income (their only chance of eminence), and the really great in favor of equality."). C'est non seulement un propos simpliste mais également un sophisme dangereux.

En effet il définit l'idiot comme celui qui est trop minable pour voir son mérite reconnu autrement que par l'argent puis il en deduit que l'idiot est favorable au systeme !!!

Facile alors de mettre son lecteur dans sa poche qui va se considerer parmi les great people. Mais qu'en sait on si son merite sera reconnu demain, dans 10 ans ou meme apres sa mort. La qualité d'une personne et sa confiance en soi ne sont pas si facilement observables.

C'est une tres bonne illustration du concept conbattu par Socrate, dont usaient ses adversaires pour convaincre un auditoire qui aime se voir flatté.

Dangereux egalement car l'application littérale entraine a considerer comme imbécile toute personne qui ne serait pas d'accord avec ce principe. En pratique un état se réclamant de ce type d'idée aurait un tres bon moyen d'identifier les gens incapables et nuisibles: Les riches et les défenseurs du systeme. Pourquoi alors se priver de restreindre leur liberté d'action puisque c'est pour le plus grand bien des great people ?
On est alors en pleine dérive fachiste, à l'opposé des idées libérales des lumières...

Hope it is less simplistic...

Cedric said...

Although fascism and communism have this characteristic in common, i.e. a strong and authoritarian state, you should not forget that fascism ideologies were established in reaction to capitalism and communism or socialism. "Mussolini defined fascism as being a right-wing collectivistic ideology in opposition to socialism, liberalism, democracy and individualism" (quoted from the english version of Wikipedia).
By your insistance on putting fascism and communism together, you are like those people who "associate fascism with their enemies, or define it as the opposite of their own views" (Wikipedia), which is not useful for the debate.
To come back to this quote that you don't like, I think your reasoning is biased by your capitalistic ideology that people need rewards to be motivated to do something. Never you seem to consider that people could simply do things because they feel compelled to do them morally, by their heart, just for the sake of doing it, because it is the right thing to do. Great people like Gandhi or Abbé Pierre do not need rewards.
Now when reading this sentence I never thought that I was a great guy and felt flattered and thought "Yes, this guy is right !". I just thought of some people I find great and realized they were all indeed for equality.
But to reassure you, George Bernard Shaw said that idiots were in favor of inequality, not that people in favor of inequality were all idiots !

Daniel said...

You're wrong. I am not capitalist at all ! I deeply think that this system is unfair and opposite to ideas that led french revolution. It creates dangerous inequalities and promoting shorter and shorter term issues as far as it is applied on larger scale.

Moreover I did't write that fascim = communism either. I wrote that Russian policies for applying communism theory led to totalitarist state with characteristics not opposite to fascim

Of course I agree that people can do things because they feel compelled to do them morally. Do you really think it could not ????

I just disagree the way the author you quoted expressed the idea. Its demonstration is a sylogism.
Note that is it written:
Idiots are ALWAYS in favor of inequality of income.

So it is a biaised way to say: if you are NOT in favor of that, you are a great guy for sure... (corollaire) Of course this is not true and putting this into act could have very terrific consequences for individual liberty !

Cedric said...

What you say would be true if there were only two categories of humans: idiots and great people. However this is more complicated than that, and there are also lots of ordinary people, as the author pointed out. So based on his assertion, I would conclude that if you are not in favor of inequality, you are not an idiot, which does not mean that you are a great guy !
But I agree with you that the word "always" is too much, I am sure that there are some idiots who are for equality as well. On the other hand, I don't think there are great people who are for inequality, or at least they would not be great to my eyes if they were.

Anyway, I think the consequences you draw from this sentence regarding fascism and individual liberty is a bit exagerated...